Questionable saint: Junipero Serra
From The Tablet: Questionable choice for next American saint
[...] Last Saturday Pope Francis described Serra as “one of the founding fathers of the United States, and a special patron of the Hispanic people of the country”.
Meanwhile Fr Vincenzo Criscuolo, a Franciscan from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said Serra was “a man of his times”.
Neither of these statements necessarily contradicts suggestions that, as the San Francisco Chronicle put it, “the missions were little more than concentration camps where California's Indians were beaten, whipped, maimed, burned, tortured and virtually exterminated by the friars”. But the paper's claims might prove difficult to reconcile with Francis’ comments about Serra’s “holiness” and “saintly example”.
When Spanish King Carlos III requested in 1780 that the California missions free the Indians, give them legal representation, and stop whipping them, Fr Serra’s responded "spiritual fathers should punish their sons, the Indians by blows... I don't see what law or reasoning my Indians should be exempt from being whipped…We can not free the Indians, relinquish directing their future, or give up the authority to use punishment."
In a letter to Spanish commander Fernando Rivera y Moncada, asking that a group of four Indians who attempted to escape Carmel Mission several times in 1775 be punished, Fr Serra requested, “… two or three whippings which Your Lordship may order applied to them… If your lordship does not have shackles, with your permission they may be sent from here. I think the punishment should last one month.”
So why canonise Blessed Serra and why do so now?
Fr Harvey Egan, a Jesuit and professor emeritus of theology at Boston College said in 2013 "Sainthood is often as much about politics and image as anything else." .... It is suggested that within 10 years half of American Catholics will be Hispanic/Latino. I think Francis and the Church think the canonisation will be a boost for Latinos – even though Serra was Spanish, not Latino – and a boost for Latino Catholicism at a time when increasing numbers are being attracted to Evangelical Churches ......
This reminds me of B16's comments in 2007 on a trip to Brazil that ... American Indians had been "silently longing" to become Christians 500 years ago.
I've remarked many times on the blog about how disillusioning it was for me as a new Catholic to read about the lives of the saints .... I finally had to come to the conclusion that most saints were not chosen because they were morally very good people but instead because their canonization would in some way benefit the institution of the church. It appears that Junipero Serra is an excellent example of this. People who like hagiography often respond that saints are only human like the rest of us, but if they are only human like the rest of us, why set them apart as saints in the first place? Oh right - PR.
More reading: To Some in California, Founder of Church Missions Is Far From Saint